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Government to Turn Over Oil Spill Documents to BP

According to Reuters News Agency, BP will be allowed access to U.S. government documents that may shed light on the size of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Legal sources say the size of the oil spill is a crucial issue in determining the oil company's liability. According to a Wednesday court filing, the government agreed to produce the documents after BP had accused it two weeks ago of unfairly withholding them because they were privileged.

The Reuters article explains that BP feels the documents may show that an August 2010 estimate of 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled, of which about 800,000 barrels were cleaned up, is too high. Legal sources say a reduction would lower the maximum civil fine BP could pay under the U.S. Clean Water Act, now estimated as high as $17.6 billion. Legal authorities say the law calls for a maximum fine of $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled, or $4,300 if there were gross negligence.

The article reports that, in a filing with the U.S. district court in New Orleans, the government said it will produce 100 documents that BP requested, citing "the importance of this case and the desire of the court to keep this case moving expeditiously."

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